Homelessness advocates Thursday gathered outside Mayor Eric Garcetti’s official residence in Windsor Square to urge him to commandeer hotels, and to ask why the city hasn’t yet requested federal reimbursement for Project Roomkey, an initiative to shelter the city’s unhoused population in hotels and motels.
Supporters of Ktown For All, a volunteer homeless outreach and advocacy organization, and Kenneth Mejia, who is running for L.A. controller in 2022, brought an “infinity” check to the Getty House, located at 605 S. Irving Blvd., to represent the federal government’s promise to fully reimburse the city’s Project Roomkey costs.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that the city has not requested reimbursement for portions of the $59 million it has spent on Project Roomkey.
During a Budget and Finance Committee meeting last week, City Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn said the billing department needs assistance to apply for reimbursements. The city previously had one staff member working on reimbursement applications, but now has three, The Times reported.
“Are you freaking kidding me? For weeks, Nithya Raman and I pushed to expand Project Roomkey and house people ASAP. Kept hearing it won’t work, that FEMA reimburses too slowly. Yet CAO hasn’t even applied for (Project Roomkey) reimbursements. Infuriating. Go get the $$$,” Councilman Mike Bonin posted on Twitter.
Alex Comisar, Garcetti’s deputy communications director, said in a statement to City News Service:
“Any unnecessary delays in this process are unacceptable, and Mayor Garcetti expects these reimbursement requests to be submitted by the end of this month. But to be clear, there is not one iota of funding holding up securing hotel rooms. The mayor and the Council allocated $75 million (Wednesday) to expand this program, and will continue to front any money we can to continue securing more hotel rooms. Getting as many people as possible off the streets must be our goal.”
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved two motions to expand Project Roomkey.
One seeks $150 million from FEMA as an advance for the program’s expansion and instructs the city attorney to report on whether commandeering hotels would endanger the availability of 100% FEMA reimbursement.
The second motion instructs the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the city administrative officer to report on opportunities to renew and expand Project Roomkey. The city attorney was directed to report back to the council on steps that need to be taken to begin commandeering hotels and motels for homeless housing.
In February, City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a report to the council that Mayor Eric Garcetti has the authority to commandeer hotel rooms to house the homeless and protect people’s lives during a local emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Los Angeles already houses people in hotel rooms through the Project Roomkey program, but hotels have to opt in and are not forced to participate.
On Feb. 20, Garcetti authorized $75 million in upfront funding to extend Los Angeles’ leases for Project Roomkey hotels through Sept. 30, but at that time the city reported only leasing three hotels with a total of about 1,200 rooms.
Patty Huber, assistant city administrative officer, told The Times that city officials plan to soon request about $14.5 million in reimbursement for Project Roomkey costs.
Los Angeles County officials have requested about $80 million for hotel rooms, and about $40 million was given upfront through an expedited program that allows municipalities to receive half the funding in advance, according to The Times.
The county has so far received about $12.4 million in reimbursements for Project Roomkey costs, The Times reported. In total, the county received about $119 million in reimbursements from FEMA out of $400 million requested for its broader pandemic response.